Securing A Place In The Access Control Market Through Teamwork
Systems integrator VideoTronix, Inc. knows its key to growth is teaming up with other systems integrators.
Jack Morris, president of systems integrator VideoTronix, Inc., has built a successful business by giving away customers. This business practice isn't as silly as it sounds. You see, Morris has established a relationship with 14 other access control VARs through an organization called SecurityNet (www.securitynet.com). Membership in this exclusive organization allows VideoTronix to remain a Midwest-based company while providing sales and service to its national customers.
"Strength is not found in hiring nationally based access control companies," he challenges. "The strength is in the independents." Coincidentally, this is SecurityNet's credo. The group of independently owned VARs and systems integrators offers a single source for meeting security needs. Morris has been a member for the past six years.
"I got involved with SecurityNet because our business was growing nationally. We wanted to retain our customers, but not grow larger than we could handle," Morris explains. "For example, The St. Paul Companies, Inc., the 11th largest insurance company in the United States, is based in St. Paul, MN, and is a good customer. When it acquired USF&G, an insurance company in the Baltimore area, it wanted to standardize, centralize, and outsource security products and procedures between locations. While we are able to provide this type of service for the offices in our geographical area (VideoTronix's headquarters is in Burnsville, MN), we couldn't physically provide this type of service outside our region. But through SecurityNet, we can offer a nationwide program by partnering with fellow members. The keys to the program's success are the communication and standards that have been set within the organization."
The system also benefits VideoTronix. If a SecurityNet member in, let's say, Boston or Seattle needs an integrator within Morris' Midwest territory, he gets the call. "We look for strategic partners within specific geographic areas," he explains. "Generally, members don't cross into other members' territories. We share best-business practices and industry information, and we have improved our buying power with manufacturers by consolidating our purchases. We couldn't do this if we were all competitors sitting in a room. The final result is a concerted effort to provide for our customers' needs and meet their local and national budgets."
Staying Secure While the SecurityNet membership is an asset to VideoTronix, the key factor is the relationship with customers at home. VideoTronix concentrates on three areas:
- Systems Integration covers the design, installation, and service of access control, closed circuit television (CCTV), time-lapsed video recording systems, and photo imaging systems.
- The Service Department provides service on a per-call basis, and through customized maintenance contracts. VideoTronix also provides engineering services and consulting services. "If we're not hired to do the job," Morris explains, "we may be commissioned to design the security system. We often help customers develop request for proposals (RFPs) that are submitted to qualified bidders. We can also help analyze bids and select vendors."
- Finally, the Software Division designs specialized programs to meet the customer's security needs. "We've written software programs for parking lot monitoring and for managing the number of service calls from member banks at a financial institution," he describes. "Our Investigation Case Management System (ICMS) is one of the financial industry's main management tools, helping overloaded bank fraud investigators manage cases. Bank management also uses ICMS to evaluate where losses are occurring."
A Method To The Madness
There's no such thing as a basic installation for VideoTronix. But, there is a general process for handling an installation, according to Morris.
When the initial sale is made and the system is engineered and accepted by the customer, including security console design, VideoTronix completes a walk-through with the customer. The goal is to identify on-site what the proposal has outlined. Next, VideoTronix develops a timeline for the installation. The timeline is based on the customer's anticipated completion date and priorities. "There might be a particular building that is of higher priority that must be secured first," Morris says. "We let the customer tell us what's most important. Once the customer agrees to the timeline, we order the equipment needed."
While the equipment is en route, VideoTronix schedules the prewiring. This can be subcontracted, if necessary. Once the equipment is received, VideoTronix preassembles all of the hardware, loads the software onto the equipment, and preconfigures all of the host computer software. At this point, the parts of the system are tested, and the host computer is brought to the site and installed.
"We usually use Dell PCs and file servers," explains Morris. "The size of the server depends on the size of the system we are installing. If the end user has adequate storage and power to run the security system, we can use the existing server – as long as it meets specifications.
"During the evolution," he continues, "customers can choose what kind of access card fits their needs. These cards could be proximity, Weigand, magnetic stripe, or a combination of any of the three. The customers will also decide the card design, photo size and placement, and color codes for various types of users (employees, visitors, contractors, etc.); then, the software is loaded."
VideoTronix makes sure that the system is online and that the software configurations meet the specifications. The next step is to mount all the field devices. These field devices, card readers, request for exit motion detectors (which release the door when people need to exit), and door alarm contacts are connected to local data gathering panels. The whole system is connected to the host through local area panels. The host talks to the panels and the panels talk to the field devices." Finally, VideoTronix signs off on the system and the warranty begins.
During the process, customers are trained on the system. VideoTronix allows customers to decide how the training will take place (i.e., as a class or in individual training sessions). "We make sure our customers are comfortable with our solutions," Morris says. "For every solution we provide, 10 people are trying to bypass it. Time is spent looking for new ways to keep ahead of people trying to compromise the solutions. Finally, our service department helps maintain the system through warranty and follow-up maintenance contracts."
Personal Business Value-Adds
Morris attests the company has grown by taking advice and by hiring qualified employees. "We have established a board of advisors with a wide range of business sense," he explains. "Advisors include a vice president at Piper Jaffray, a retired banker, a manufacturer in our industry, an executive vice president of a national leasing company, and a representative from our accounting firm. They advise us on best-business practices and stages of business. But, since we are privately held, board members don't make decisions for the company. However, the suggestions are almost always implemented."
Morris credits VideoTronix's growth and position, a $13.5 million company with 92 employees, to hiring decisions. "When I started this company in 1980," he explains, "I wanted to challenge my employees with new opportunities. Training is the foundation. I'd say most of the technical people at our company are proud of what they do. This industry changes so much; in order for them to keep up, we must spend a lot of time on training.
"Our philosophy is to do whatever it takes to keep a customer. The key to keeping customers is keeping employees. With the tremendous growth we've experienced over the last four years, it's hard to find qualified employees. It's hard to compete when companies such as Microsoft recruit technical students out of high school and technical school. We offer internships to help train and establish employees."
All in all, Morris seems to be sticking to his mission statement. Of his 92 employees, the average employee has worked for VideoTronix for more than seven years. Employees are the biggest piece in VideoTronix's access control puzzle. Happy employees make for happy customers. That's security.